Beside Oneself in Frustration

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Beside Oneself in Frustration

There’s always two of me just a-hangin’ around.” –“Weird Al” Yankovic

“Not you again”, two voices said in perfect synchronization.

A nearby passenger looked up to see a rather odd scenario play out before him.  The man, an I.R.S. Section Supervisor, blinked a few times.  He rationalized that the two were either twins or he was just that tired.  Turning up his NPR podcast, the man closed his eyes and instead focused on the soothing voice emanating from his headphones.

“Ugh.  Hello Prime.”

“Hello Number One.”

“Don’t tell me you’re seated in this row.”


“Sitting next to me?”

“It sure looks that way”, Prime replied.

“Typical, just typical”, Number One said.

“What do you mean, typical?  I’m going to a family reunion”, Prime argued.  “We agreed that you got all the friends, and I got all the family.”

Thomas and Thomas had a unique problem.  Once upon a time, Thomas Dustereoal was the foremost expert in cloning.  Working in a privately funded lab in international waters, Thomas had managed to create a perfect human clone.  Being somewhat of an egomaniac, he decided that he was the one most worthy of cloning.  (Thomas would continually state that his genetic material was the easiest and cheapest to procure, therefore it was only logical that he should experiment with his own DNA.  Any person that knew Thomas recognized that this was merely a supplemental reason.)

To say that the experiment had eventually worked would be underselling Thomas’ achievement, which the self-obsessed scientist could never do.  What was truly remarkable about Thomas’ cloning process was that it copied the experiences of the source DNA as well.  Memories were retained, scars were coded into the tissue; everything came along to make the clone a true duplicate.

The problem began when Thomas realized that his process had worked too well.  The morning after the clone’s brain had been programmed, the arguments started.  Each Thomas declared that they were the original and the other was the clone.  One Thomas would claim that the other had slipped some chemical into their coffee and stolen the clothes, the wallet, and most importantly, the keycard to the lab.  They couldn’t even agree on what to call each other.  Finally, a compromise was worked out and neither would call themselves Thomas when around the other.

“So where are you going?  Off to one more lecture?  Still trying to cash in on our genius?”  Prime had been allowed the family ties, but he no longer set foot inside of a laboratory or dabbled in biology and he resented that Number One was constantly focusing on the financial benefits.

“If you must know”, Number One said with a sigh.  “I’m on my way to present at the Bioengineering conference.”

“Oh, that one”, Prime said as he nodded in remembrance.  “Does that one still take place in the same hotel?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I miss the continental breakfasts they used to offer.  That bacon, it’s just…”

“The greatest treat around”, they both said.

“I thought you hated it when I did that”, Prime said.


“You keep getting annoyed when we say the same thing.”

“So?  I’m not raging with fury, am I?”  Number One was already dreading the four-hour flight and just wanted to memorize his talking points.

“Okay, but this time I was talking and you joined in.  You talked over me.  So you’re allowed to do that?  When I do it, it’s the worst thing ever.  Yet it’s perfectly acceptable for you to finish my sentences?”

“I’m sorry”, Number One grumbled.  “You’re too sensitive; further proof that I could have copied you better.”

“Don’t start that again.  Or else I’ll have to express my theory about how the emotional transfer wasn’t as smooth as it should have been.”

“Fine”, Number One said.  He closed his eyes.  The row they were sitting in only had two seats and Number One had gotten stuck with the aisle so he had no window to rest his head against.  “How’s Mom?”

“What?”  Prime raised his eyebrow in amusement.  “What did you say?”

“You heard me”, Number One grumbled.

“I did, it’s just that every time you actually show concern for a member of the Dustereoal gene pool that isn’t you, I go into a mild state of shock.”

“Are you going to tell me or not?”  Number One’s eyes had snapped open and now they were glaring right at Prime.

“She’s fine.  She says I sound different when she tries to call me at work.  Why don’t you ever have a real conversation with her instead of telling her that you have to go?”

“You got the family”, Number one replied.

“Oh c’mon”, Prime rebuffed.  “I’m not going to explode if you exchange pleasantries every now and then.”  Prime studied his twin and thought for a minute or two.  Then the realization struck him.  “Wait, I thought you said you were going to have the work number changed so that Mom couldn’t get a hold of you?”

“Work wouldn’t let me change it”, Number One said as he unpacked his papers.

“Work?  That’s your excuse?”  A look of incredulity had taken residence on Prime’s face.  “Are you serious?  You’re the most demanding, most obnoxious, most pretentious…”

“…Most recognized, most rewarded, highest paid…”, Number One added.

“…Scientific twerp that they have working there.  They give you whatever silly thing you ask for, even if it breaks; I’m sorry, “bends”, the law half the time.  And they won’t change a phone number for you?”

“Company policy”, was all that Number One said.

“Uh huh”, Prime said with a smile in the corner of his mouth.

“All righty, if you want to talk then let’s talk”, Number One said as he put down his papers.  “What have you been doing with your time?”

“Reading”, Prime said.


“Just reading.”

“How is that supposed to pay the bills?”

“You know, it’s the funniest thing”, Prime said.  “Nobody really asks you to pay taxes when your identical twin already does that.  You want all the prestige, well you can finagle all the income taxes too.”

“How do you pay for food?  For gas?”

“Well, gas implies I have a car, which I don’t.  I just walk or take the bus.  As for food; there’s always some little task or chore that needs to be done that someone else doesn’t want to do.  I take care of it for them and they help me pay my bills.  It’s a work-for-hire kind of thing.”

“But you spend most of the time…”

“…reading”, Prime replied.  “Yep.”

“How is that furthering society?  How is that adding to the world of intelligence and discovery?”

“How many of Isaac Asimov’s books have you actually read?”  Prime looked to his double already knowing the answer hadn’t changed.  “When we were little, the closest we got were reading the descriptions on the back of books, and then it was straight on to the homework.  You don’t have time to read anything and learn from it.”

“So, you’re spending all your time, being half-broke, and reading science-fiction novels?”

“Not just sci-fi”, Prime replied.  “Sure I’ve read Asimov and Wells, but there’s also Dickens, Shakespeare, Keats.  I once spent a whole day reading nothing but Roald Dahl.”

“Never heard of him”, Number One said.

“I’m not surprised.  You’d like him though.  Lots of potions, experiments, and he can be very dark.”

“That’s all you do is sit in a library and read?”

“Sometimes I go to the park.  There are quite a few interesting people to discuss books with.  You also meet some pretty cute women while ‘loafing about’ outdoors.”

“That’s what you’re using my genius intellect for?”

“Ours, you dolt; ours.  I keep forgetting just how greedy and possessive you are”, Prime said.  “I don’t know why you care.  We enjoy seeing women swoon when we get all theory-talk on them.”

“I do not”, Number One stated.

“Yeah you do”, Prime replied.  “What, you’re going to lie to yourself?  There’s a sure way to prove your mental health.”

“You don’t know everything there is to know about me”, Number One said as he picked up his papers again.  He was done listening to the other Thomas and decided he was going to focus on his notes and nothing else.”

“We’re still the same person, just with new experiences.  How different could we really be?”

At that moment, a flight attendant walked up and leaned towards the two men.  She was a middle-aged woman and her confident stride made it clear that she the boss on the plane. She put an arm on the headrest and towards both men at the same time, which is to say, not really at all.

“What can I get for you folks tonight; chicken or fish?”

“Chicken”, Number One replied.

At the exact same time, Prime had answered, “Fish”.

“One chicken, one fish.  Coming right up”, the flight attendant said and then departed.

“You didn’t get the fish”, Number One said.

“And you didn’t get the chicken”, Prime noticed.  Both men had a look of confusion about them.  Somehow they had grown at least a little different in the years that had passed.

“Huh”, they both commented.

What Goes Up Must Float there Until Payment is Received

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

What Goes Up Must Float there Until Payment is Received

We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.” -Wernher von Braun

Gretchen walked into the door of her apartment to find that her world had been turned upside down.  As her napkin holder spun slowly in midair, she groaned as each little paper napkin strayed off towards a different direction.  She saw the couch blocking her path to the kitchen and pushed it down to the carpet.  The three-seater hide-a-bed lingered around the floor, but Gretchen could tell that it would probably head to the ceiling at any moment.  She really thought life before the gravity bill had been much simpler.

Like many inconvenienced citizens, Gretchen blamed the government.  She pined for days when gravity was free, not a social service that was regulated and controlled.  Gretchen remembered ten years ago when she could lay on the ground, her hair in ponytails, and read Nancy Drew books as she rested her chin on her hands.  When she was a girl, she did that for free.  Now she had to pay for her right to rest on a surface.

Scientists had claimed that their control of gravity was the greatest benefactor they could have dreamed up.  They spoke of elderly people with aching joints being relieved of pressure on their joints.  The biologists remarked that the change in how they operated meant that they could work on concepts in a zero-gravity environment.  Although many in the intellectual community admitted that much of the joy of being an astronaut was gone now that floating in the air was an everyday occurrence.

The whole idea had started on a small scale.  Individual labs were fitted with the Gravitational Nullification Unit, or GNU.  The machine did exactly what the name promised.  Much like noise-cancelling headphones were capable of blocking out ambient noise by matching frequencies, the GNU negated the force of gravity by exerting an opposing force.  Like a hovercraft for all matter, the GNU kept anything within its range free from their previous weighty restrictions.  It was soon declared too important a discovery to be left to industry alone and was mass-marketed to consumers.  That was when things to got hairy.

Who knew that a GNU would be such a nuisance?

The government stepped in and decided that all these different levels of gravity needed to be regulated.  What if a house was being moved by a GNU which malfunctioned and fell on a small child?  Who would be responsible for guaranteeing that dump trucks driving through various areas wouldn’t have their entire load end up littering the sky?  And of course, there was the famous Superbaby concern, where any child that wandered into the wrong place might be sent into the stratosphere.

With a vote that was nearly unanimous, (two representatives felt it was immoral to regulate nature) Congress created a system that would license, regulate, and bill each person for the GNU’s services.  With GNUs occupying eighty-six percent of all consumers of an annual income exceeding forty-thousand dollars, the Gravitational Regulating Organization for Weighty Laws had their hands busy.  The GROWL went to work right away and set out to collect one thousand dollar start-up fee from each member that was using a GNU machine.  Then they added a monthly bill to “continue to assure governmental and proper use of such equipment.”  Many people, including Gretchen, bemoaned the matter.  There were already discussions about voting out the established government representatives due to their apparent over-charging in their monopoly.

For the time being, Gretchen was trapped.  She tried to tie her purse onto the doorknob, but it started to remove itself.  Gretchen screamed, slammed the door shut, and swam her way to the bathroom.  Thanks to a last minute appeal by medical professionals and human rights organizations, bathrooms were required to always have gravity.  Every toilet had a built in gravitational system of its own that extended in a ten-foot diameter.  There were some questions as to how much strain was put on the structure when walls shared gravity on one side on no gravity on the other, but bathrooms needed things to go down pipes.  Showers needed to send water down onto a person, not floating every which way like some sort of psychedelic rain storm.

Gretchen floated along the bottom of the bathroom and shut the door.  The doorjamb-sensor was activated and she heard the familiar clicking noise.  The GNU turned the gravity on slowly, allowing Gretchen to find her footing.  She was already dreading turning the doorknob, which would deactivate the machine at the same rate.

Gretchen wanted things to go back to the way they had been.  She wasn’t a fan of flighty behavior or fancy technology.  She liked her belongings to be practical.  Her books had all been carefully arranged in a nice order, and now, because she had forgotten to pay one little bill, she would have to reorganize all her things.  That of course, was after she found her cordless phone that was floating around somewhere in her apartment.

Gretchen screamed again as she sat in her bathtub.  All she wanted after a long day of work was to take a nap.  She wanted to recover from her menial day as a receptionist before she had to go back tomorrow.  She wanted to cook food on a stove without the scalding hot water reaching up to burn her.  She wanted to sit and read a book in a chair.  When it came down to it, Gretchen preferred the down-to-earth way of life.

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